Protests continue at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Students are demanding attention to their frustration regarding a new fee required for attendance. While protests and petitions have been occurring since spring 2010, recent days have seen increased violence and rioting.
The turmoil began when the University of Puerto Rico included a new $800 fee into semester tuition. This fee is a response to recent budget cuts, and school officials maintain that the fee is absolutely necessary to keep the university on its feet. With a budget of $1 billion, and nearly $200 million in recent cuts, the deficit is expected to be met by the new tuition fee.
Students attest that the newly imposed fee is forcing a multitude of dropouts. Adding on the extra $800 raised tuition by almost fifty percent. Over five thousand students have not returned to the current semester, which is assumed to be due to an inability to pay the fee. While University administration points out that $51 per credit is an abnormally cheap rate, two-thirds of students live in poverty and simply are not able to adjust to the recent increase.
As a peaceful attempt to resolve the issue, students created a 200 page document highlighting methods to generate revenue for the school, without increasing tuition. Trustees have not been willing to review the proposal. The President of the University resigned last Friday, and an interim President has stepped in.
The unwillingness of the trustees and University administrators to consider student concerns and suggestions has fueled the recent riots. Blockades were set up to shut down campus buildings, public property was being destroyed, and students were getting hurt. These events lead to the decision that police intervention was necessary. Police in full riot gear attempted to calm disorder on campus, leaving dozens of people injured along the way.
Many students have stopped going to class in fear of getting caught in the crossfire. Teachers supporting the students’ position held a walkout strike to demonstrate. While students, and teachers alike, have been trying to get their voices heard, no negotiation has been offered. To some protesters, the new fee has become less about a financial hardship and more representative of a social injustice.